Debbie Reft

Living with MBC


Stem Cell Transplant Saved Me

When this all started I was 40 yrs old, 2 boys, 14.and 9 and a single mom whose husband left to marry the best friend. I was always one of those big breasted woman who loved it at the time but despise them as I got older, diagnosed with Fiber cystic disease years ago who one day when taking a shower found a lump in my left breast. Scared I blew it off as the fiber cystic disease for 3 months then one day bending over to dry myself again after a shower there it was, the dreaded puckering skin on the breast and I knew exactly what is was. I made an appointment with the family Dr., who immediately sent me for a mammogram and then a sonogram and then to be told I needed a biopsy, it has only been 48 hrs. I have the biopsy and 4 days later I am sitting in my office and get the call from the Dr., never good news when the dr. calls himself, you have breast cancer he says. I cry and buckle over in my chair I have to leave, I need air, one of my colleagues follows me out to the parking lot and I punch everything in site. They take me home to help me tell my entire family 1000 miles away I have cancer; they are devastated, I had not told them anything before hand and I am having a Mastectomy in 2 days. Results come back 18 nodes positive out of 36, again devastated more bad news it has metastasized. My treatment will be 4 months of chemo, followed by a stem cell transplant and 6 weeks of Radiation or I will have less than a year to live. Mom says I can’t lose another child (my brother died when he was 18), that is all it took, my decision to live is at that very moment, I look at my children and say lets do it, there was no looking back. So by myself with the help of a few good friends I start my fight. Since I had had a total of 3 surgeries in 9 days they would not allow a port to be put in, as that would be anther surgery so all meds were issued through my hand or IV. Painful but it will save my life I tell myself. The Dr. told me that it will 17 days after the first treatment and you will lose you hair, he was right on the money, I had my hair cut so short it could have been shaved but I had to keep something, and on the 17th day it came out in clumps right down to the skin of my head. The first week I started to feel bad, flu like, but I had to work that would take care of the kids so I did, worked full time during the entire chemo treatment. By the second week so sick, and then the 3rd week you start feeling better then you have to get do it again. Four months later that is done now I get 3 weeks to prepare my will, living will, and declare someone to make medical decisions for me if I can not as anyone who has had a transplant knows nothing is guaranteed. They basically kill you and take you immune system down to nothing so you have to live in a germ free room for the entire time. I put the kids pictures on the wall at the bottom of the bed so every time I wake up or go to sleep I can see them, as I could not let them see me in that state. I have fading memories of when I was in the hospital. Finally after 24 days I am free, Time to rest before my radiation, take 3 weeks off of work and heal. One day about 2 weeks after my release my family does a surprise visit, everyone in my family showed up at my front door without telling me, one of the best surprises of my life. The love and support that all my family would fly 1000 miles to see a bald, gray skinned, with black circles under my eyes me was the best gift I could have ever received. They spent 4 days with me and shared with me their pain, fears and joy to see me out of the hospital and alive. Radiation next, 5 hours to set up this test, tough not moving but it must be exact. The entire set up procedure takes more time than the treatment did, 3 minutes each day for 6 weeks, all done on my lunch hour. I do a lot of running on my lunch hour but again this will save my life. It has been 16 years since then and I am doing well. Thanks to my family, my kids and my friends who without them I would not be here today. I now work with the American Cancer Society and volunteer as Reach to Recovery volunteer and visit women who are currently going through breast cancer treatment; maybe by telling them my story it will give them hope like I was given. Never stop fighting, always love your family and friends, as they are the strength that gets you through the hard times.